Ford sales fell 7 percent in 2021 but rebounded in the fourth quarter.

Some big events are delaying their return to in-person gatherings, but the organizers of CES, the Winter Olympics and the Australian Open have decided it’s time to gather in person again.


A Ford Mustang Mach E at an auto show in Los Angeles. Ford said it sold more than 27,000 fully electric vehicles.Credit…David Swanson/EPA, via Shutterstock

Ford Motor said on Wednesday that it sold 1.9 million cars and trucks in the United States last year, down 7 percent compared with 2020, but it added that sales were much stronger in the last three months of the year as a computer chip shortage eased.

The company, which finished the year third behind Toyota and General Motors, said it sold 27 percent more vehicles in the fourth quarter than the third quarter. Ford was forced to idle or slow down production at many factories in the middle of 2021 because of the chip shortage. It’s production rose to more normal levels in August after four lean months.

Ford said it sold more than 27,000 fully electric vehicles, replacing G.M. in the No. 2 position in that fast-growing segment behind Tesla. All of those sales came from the Mustang Mach E, a popular sport-utility vehicle.

Ford is expecting sales of electric vehicles to grow significantly this year. In the spring, the company is supposed to start producing an electric pickup truck, the F-150 Lightning. It has booked reservations for more than 200,000 trucks, and it expects to produce about 60,000 Lightnings this year, increasing that to 80,000 in 2023 and 150,000 by 2024. The company also plans to start selling an electric version of its Transit delivery van this year.

Even with those new electric models, Ford may not gain a lot of ground on Tesla. Last year, Tesla’s global sales increased 87 percent to more than 936,000 cars, and it has forecast annual growth of about 50 percent for the next several years.

But it could maintain its lead over its main rival among established automakers. G.M.’s electric vehicle strategy has been slowed because of troubles with its Chevrolet Bolt. The company has stopped making the electric compact car while its battery supplier, LG Electronics, fixes a glitch that can cause Bolt battery packs to catch fire. G.M. and LG are working to replace the batteries in Bolts sold since 2017. G.M. hopes to restart Bolt production in February.

G.M. plans to add other electric models, but the two coming this year — the Hummer and Cadillac Lyriq — are luxury models that are likely to sell in low volumes.

Later on Wednesday, G.M. will unveil an electric version of its Chevrolet Silverado pickup, but that won’t go into production until the first half of 2023 — about a year after Ford is supposed to start making the F-150 Lightning.

The organizers of CES said the show must go on, in person, this year.Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

After going virtual last year, CES, a mega-conference in Las Vegas that’s the traditional launchpad for many of the tech industry’s latest gadgets, is trying to make a comeback. The trade show kicks off on Wednesday, with an estimated 2,200 exhibitors set to show up in person.

But with the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus surging, scores of major tech companies are still presenting mostly virtually.

It’s a sign that decisions to hold big in-person events at this phase of the pandemic remain far from clear-cut, the DealBook newsletter reports. Yet the organizers of CES — like those of the Winter Olympics and the Australian Open, which are set to begin soon — have decided it’s time to gather in person again.

Canceling the show would “hurt thousands of smaller companies, entrepreneurs and innovators” who depend on the show to introduce their products, Gary Shapiro, the chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association, the trade group that organizes CES, wrote in an opinion column in The Las Vegas Review-Journal. (The conference is also important for Las Vegas, which reaped an estimated $291 million from spending tied to it in 2020.) Mr. Shapiro noted that the conference had embraced pandemic protections like requiring attendees to be fully vaccinated and masked while on the show floor, and that testing was readily available.

But many large companies have chosen to attend remotely, including Amazon, AMD, AT&T, General Motors, Google, Intel, Lenovo, Meta, Nvidia, Pinterest, T-Mobile and Twitter. That will leave “big gaps on the show floor,” Mr. Shapiro said. And CES will end a day early, in what the organizers said was a concession to safety.

Other big events are delaying their return to in-person gatherings. Organizers of the Grammys are reportedly considering delaying this month’s music awards show, while the World Economic Forum postponed its annual confab in Davos, Switzerland, which was set to take place this month.

So is it safe to hold live in-person events again? Omicron cases appear to be less severe than cases from previous variants, and vaccines and new treatments are becoming available. More governments are also edging toward managing, not containing, the coronavirus, and are increasingly reluctant to reimpose restrictions. That could mean that a return to regular mass gatherings in some places may not be far-off.

“It worked and it worked well,” Jason Kilar, the chief executive of WarnerMedia, said of the company’s film release strategy in 2021.Credit…Brian Losness/Reuters

The steaming service HBO Max and the cable channel HBO ended 2021 with a combined 73.8 million global subscribers, beating year-end projections of 73 million, the platforms’ parent company, AT&T, said on Wednesday.

The streaming service also expanded into 46 countries in the past year.

The announcement represents a vindication of the strategy of Jason Kilar, the chief executive of WarnerMedia, the entertainment conglomerate that oversees HBO Max and HBO. In December 2020, Mr. Kilar announced that all 17 films on the Warner Bros. 2021 slate would debut simultaneously in theaters and on the nascent streaming service.

“It worked and it worked well,” Mr. Kilar said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “We’d make the same decision again, if we had a chance to go back and do it again.”

The growth was also fueled by several popular shows, including “The Sex Lives of College Girls” and “Succession,” among others.

The streaming world is fiercely competitive, and HBO Max still has significantly fewer subscribers than Disney+, which had 118.1 million subscribers in November, and Netflix, which has 222 million subscribers. (Disney+ premiered in November 2019, while HBO Max didn’t make its debut until May 2020.)

Mr. Kilar’s move angered Hollywood enough for top agents and filmmakers to call out the studio for its seemingly rash decision.

“Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service,” Christopher Nolan, the director of the WarnerMedia film “Tenet,” said in a statement at the time.

Yet the uncertainty of box office returns in the pandemic coupled with WarnerMedia’s need to expand its new streaming service appear to have affirmed Mr. Kilar’s decision.

None of the studio’s 2021 films landed in the top 10 of year-end box office receipts, but two — “Godzilla vs. Kong” with $99 million and “Dune” with $93 million — were close.

The final Warner Bros. movie with a simultaneous release, “The Matrix Resurrections,” the fourth title in the successful “Matrix” franchise, opened on Dec. 22 and has earned only $31 million, a stark contrast to “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which has grossed $621 million for Sony Pictures since its debut on Dec. 17.

Still, Mr. Kilar, who is expected to leave the company once it completes its merger with Discovery, doesn’t believe he left money on the table.

“At the end of the day, from an economic perspective, the revenues that are generated in response to that investment is ultimately what matters, not where those dollars come from,” he said.

For 2022, Warner Bros. will return to the traditional model of theatrical releases, where all of its films will receive a 45-day exclusive window in theaters before moving to HBO Max.

“We think the right thing to do is to split our slate where we have a number of movies from Warner Brothers that are going to go directly to HBO Max on day one and then we have a number of titles that are going to go to theaters, and then 45 days later, they’re going to show up on HBO Max,” Mr. Kilar said. “That’s never been done before. So we feel really good about our strategy.”

AT&T will report its fourth-quarter earnings on Jan. 26.

Audie Cornish, right, during an appearance on “Meet the Press.” Ms. Cornish has hosted “All Things Considered” since 2012.Credit…NBCUniversal, via Getty Images

Audie Cornish, a host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” is leaving her job, becoming the latest prominent person of color to leave the public broadcaster.

Ms. Cornish announced her departure in a series of tweets on Tuesday, saying she was “joining many of you in ‘The Great Resignation,'” adding that she was “ready to stretch my wings and try something new.” NPR said her last day would be Friday.

Ms. Cornish, who started at NPR as a reporter on the national desk in 2005, has hosted “All Things Considered,” the broadcaster’s flagship news program, since 2012.

“I look forward to new opportunities and new ways to tell stories and to keep finding ways to make space and center the voices of those who have been traditionally left out,” Ms. Cornish wrote on Twitter.

Her decision to leave her job comes after the recent exits of other prominent NPR hosts of color, including the host Noel King, who went to Vox Media, and Lulu Garcia-Navarro, who joined The New York Times.

Ari Shapiro, Ms. Cornish’s co-host on “All Things Considered,” said in a tweet on Tuesday that he was on vacation and not available for comment. He added that he would refer any journalists to NPR’s communications department for comment “on why we’re hemorrhaging hosts from marginalized backgrounds.”

“If NPR doesn’t see this as a crisis,” Mr. Shapiro said in a tweet, “I don’t know what it’ll take.”

Isabel Lara, NPR’s chief communications officer, said in a statement, “We’re focused not only on those who choose to leave NPR, but also who is deciding to come.”

“Diversity in our staff, sourcing and coverage is not only crucial to the accuracy and fairness of NPR’s content, but to the future of public media and our audience at large,” she added.

Speaking of Ms. Cornish, Ms. Lara said in the statement, “While we would love it if she could stay, she has decided to pursue new projects.”

Kenichiro Yoshida, Sony’s chief, with the company’s prototype electric SUV on Tuesday.Credit…Alex Wong/Getty Images

TOKYO — Sony announced on Tuesday that it was establishing a subsidiary devoted to transportation, taking it a step closer to entering the fiercely competitive electric car market.

The Japanese electronics and entertainment giant unveiled a prototype electric car last year and has begun road-testing the vehicle in Europe.

Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Sony chief’s, Kenichiro Yoshida, unveiled a new version of the vehicle, a sleek S.U.V. that would, among other things, allow passengers to play video games made for the company’s PlayStation 5 console.

“We are exploring a commercial launch of Sony’s EV,” Mr. Yoshida said, referring to the electric vehicle. Sony will establish the new company this spring, he added.

Japan is a world leader in automotive manufacturing, but its companies have been slow to enter the small but rapidly growing electric car market. They have largely ceded the field to companies like Tesla even as traditional competitors in the United States and Europe have pledged to go all-electric in the coming decades.

Last month, Toyota announced that it would make a major investment in battery-electric vehicles and significantly expand its lineup of the automobiles in an effort to catch up with other companies offering alternatives to gasoline-powered cars.

Tech companies like Alphabet, Google’s parent company; Apple; and Baidu, the Chinese internet search company, have expressed interest in entering the market, hoping to bring their strength in fields like artificial intelligence to a consumer product that is becoming increasingly digital, online and software-oriented.

Electric cars have fewer components and are easier to manufacture than vehicles with internal-combustion engines, but these companies still face a challenging path to bringing vehicles to market.

Stocks on Wall Street fell on Wednesday, ahead of the release of the minutes from the Federal Reserve’s meeting in December, which economists expect will give them better insight into how quickly central bank officials expect to start raising interest rates.

The S&P 500 ticked down 0.3 percent, extending Tuesday’s losses. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite was down 1.3 percent.

Fed officials said in December that the central bank would quicken its pullback on large-scale purchases of government-backed bonds to cool down inflation. The move paves the way for the Fed to raise interest rates as soon as March.

The minutes, which will be published Wednesday afternoon, could provide investors more details on the central bank’s plans.

The bond market has responded to expectations of tightened policy this week, with yields on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes soaring to their highest point since late November. On Wednesday, Treasury yields continued their climb to 1.68 percent, up from 1.66 percent.

The indication that rates are going to rise is discouraging investments for risky investments like technology stocks. The Nasdaq composite is down about 1.5 percent this week.

Oil prices rose a day after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies decided to continue with a planned increase in oil output. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, was up 1.7 percent to $78.26 a barrel.

European stock indexes were up slightly on Wednesday, with the Stoxx Europe 600 gaining 0.1 percent.

The Dixie Fire raging in Plumas County, Calif., last July. Credit…Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

California fire investigators on Tuesday pinned the blame for the Dixie Fire — the second largest blaze in the state’s history — on equipment owned by Pacific Gas & Electric and referred the case to prosecutors.

The Dixie Fire burned more than 963,000 acres in the Northern California areas of Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta and Tehama Counties in July, destroying 1,329 buildings and damaging 95 others. The cause, investigators determined, was a tree that came into contact with PG&E’s power lines near the Cresta Dam about 100 miles north of Sacramento.

Investigators at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, referred their findings to the Butte County district attorney, who previously brought charges against PG&E for the 2018 Camp Fire, which killed scores of people and destroyed the town of Paradise.

In that case, PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and one felony count of illegally setting a fire. The utility also agreed to pay $3.5 million in fines as part of the criminal plea.

In a statement in response to Cal Fire’s determination, PG&E said the tree that fell struck equipment that was functioning properly. “This tree was one of more than eight million trees within strike distance to PG&E lines,” the utility said. “Regardless of today’s finding, we will continue to be tenacious in our efforts to stop fire ignitions from our equipment and to ensure that everyone and everything is always safe.”

PG&E also has charges pending in Shasta County, where the district attorney has charged the utility with manslaughter, along with other felonies and misdemeanors in connection with the Zogg Fire, which burned more than 56,000 acres and destroyed 204 buildings near Redding.

Since 2017, PG&E has been the focus of the state’s extreme wildfires that have been made worse by climate change. The company has taken numerous steps to prevent wildfires, including installing weather stations and cameras. The utility also has resorted to the extreme measure of cutting off power, sometimes to millions of people for days.

After PG&E amassed $30 billion in liability from the wildfires caused by its equipment, the utility sought bankruptcy protection in January 2019. The company exited from bankruptcy in July 2020, promising to work to prevent further wildfires. Victims of the fires have continued to seek compensation for their losses that became part of the company’s bankruptcy plan.

The Dixie Fire — among at least three fires last year that were suspected of being caused by PG&E’s equipment — underscored the lingering threat of wildfires caused by utility equipment.

Quentin Tarantino is pushing ahead with auctions of NFTs associated with his handwritten screenplay of ‘Pulp Fiction,’ despite a pending lawsuit.Credit…Krista Schlueter for The New York Times

When Quentin Tarantino and the movie studio Miramax agreed on the rights to “Pulp Fiction” in the early 1990s, cryptocurrency didn’t exist. Now, Mr. Tarantino is courting controversy — with a crypto twist — over ownership of the cult movie’s script that could set a legal precedent for intellectual property rights.

On Wednesday, the director announced auctions of nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, associated with his original handwritten screenplay, despite a pending lawsuit by Miramax.

Mr. Tarantino has been thwarted before. In November, after he announced plans for an auction, Miramax sued, claiming breach of contract and various intellectual property violations. In December, the director’s lawyers denied the accusations, but the sales did not proceed.

A hearing to schedule the lawsuit’s next steps is set for February, according to the court docket. Mr. Tarantino’s latest plans to sell the NFTs this month could prompt Miramax to demand an emergency block of the auctions until the legal issues are resolved.

NFTs are chunks of code associated with images, sound or video files, recorded on the blockchain — think of them as digital certificates of authenticity. Miramax’s lawyers argue that NFTs are unique (“nonfungible” is in the name, after all). Mr. Tarantino’s legal team argues that he is merely reproducing copies of his original script, a right he reserved.

How these tokens compare with old forms of creative expression is unclear.

“Someone could mint hundreds or thousands of unique NFTs linked to the same creative work, kind of like printing many copies of a book,” said Frank Gerratana, an intellectual property expert at Mintz in Boston. In that sense, although each NFT has its own unique identifier on a blockchain, they may not be considered distinct.

This question is likely to come up again, Mr. Gerratana said, given growing interest in cryptocurrencies. Whoever wins this fight may forever mark the law.

A direct current conversion facility in Blyth, England, provides a landing point for a new cable stretching from Norway.Credit…Mary Turner for The New York Times

A growing web of undersea electrical cables is binding Britain’s vital power system and its clean energy aspirations to Europe.

The longest and most powerful of these cables was recently laid across the North Sea, from a hydroelectric plant in Norway’s rugged mountains to Blyth, an industrial port in northeast England, The New York Times’s Stanley Reed reports.

Completed last year, it stretches 450 miles, roughly the distance from New York to Toronto. The twin cables, each about five inches in diameter, can carry enough power for nearly 1.5 million homes.

The idea is to use the cable to balance the two nations’ power systems and take advantage of differences between them. In the broadest terms, Britain wants to tap into Norway’s often abundant hydropower, while the Norwegians will be able to benefit from surges of electricity from British wind farms that might otherwise be wasted.

The rapid growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar, whose output varies with the breeze and sunshine, makes such sharing increasingly essential, experts say. These cables connecting one nation’s grid to another, known as interconnectors, allow Europe and other regions to operate like a much larger and more diverse power system that can use surpluses of electricity in one area to offset shortages in others.

Linking one nation’s power grid with another’s is considered essential as more electricity is generated from solar and wind. READ MORE

“Mega corporations would rather pass higher costs on to consumers than cut into their profits,” Senator Sherrod Brown has said.Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times

Inflation remains rapid as the economy enters 2022, and Democrats have begun pointing to a new culprit for the high and lasting price increases: Greedy corporations.

Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and the White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, have been among those pointing to excessive profits in certain industries as one thing jacking up costs for consumers. They don’t blame overall inflation on price-gouging businesses — but the implication is that higher prices are partly the product of corporate opportunism, Jeanna Smialek reports for The New York Times.

The explanation for inflation is the latest in a string Democrats have offered since price gains shot up to uncomfortably high levels last year. It is partly grounded in economic reality, partly in political necessity: Rising prices are burdening and unsettling consumers, making them a liability for a party with a tenuous hold on congressional control headed into 2022 midterm elections.

As consumers feel the pinch of higher prices for food, gas and household goods, it’s creating a political messaging problem for Democrats. Lawmakers and the White House had initially argued that fast inflation was a sign that airfares and hotel rates were bouncing back and would fade quickly, but supply chain snarls and booming consumer demand for goods kept them elevated throughout 2021. More recently, price pressures have begun to broaden to service categories, like rent, in which increases tend to be long-lasting — and as wages climb swiftly, it raises the possibility that companies will keep lifting prices to cover their costs.

As inflation proves stubbornly sticky, administration officials and prominent lawmakers have refined their message to focus more blame on corporations, especially those in concentrated industries with a handful of powerful firms, like meat processing or gas.

“Profits at the biggest U.S. companies shot above $3 trillion this year, and the margins keep growing,” Mr. Brown, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said during a recent hearing. “Mega corporations would rather pass higher costs on to consumers than cut into their profits.”

Ms. Warren has pointed to robust corporate profits as a sign that companies are partly to blame for rising costs.

“Corporations are exploiting the pandemic to gouge consumers with higher prices on everyday essentials, from milk to gasoline,” she posted on Twitter on Nov. 26. “American families shouldn’t be bankrolling corporate America’s record-high profits.”

Politicians are placing more blame on greedy companies as prices stay high, but booming consumer demand is enabling firms to charge more. READ MORE

In Raleigh, N.C., Johnny Hackett Jr.’s temporary pop-up, the Black Friday Market, did so well that he signed a five-year lease.Credit…Eamon Queeney for The New York Times

The rash of storefront vacancies in the pandemic taught landlords to be more flexible with retail tenants. Some cut longtime tenants slack, waiving rents or entering into revenue-sharing agreements. To entice new tenants, they reduced rates, offered free rent and agreed to customize spaces.

Then there are the stopgap measures — anything to keep the space occupied, reports Jane Margolies for The New York Times.

To bring in some revenue, some landlords have given storefront windows over to digital advertising.

Others are allowing their empty windows to be filled with artwork — efforts that generate good will and make vacant spaces look less bleak.

And some welcomed pop-up retailers, hoping to bring life to languishing ground-floor spaces.

Pop-ups might not earn as much from the arrangements, but at least some revenue was coming in. And the deals often involve quick licensing agreements, rather than more complicated leases, and no outlay for capital expenses. Plus, there’s always the chance that a pop-up may become a permanent tenant.

In North Carolina, the Downtown Raleigh Alliance started two pop-up programs to address storefront vacancies and help local businesses. Early last year, the organization began matching landlords with entrepreneurs.

In the fall of 2020, the organization helped place Johnny Hackett Jr. in a storefront in a prominent building owned by Empire Properties for three months at a reduced rate.

Mr. Hackett paid $3,000 a month to open Black Friday Market, carrying art, apparel and other wares from dozens of Black vendors. The store did so well that Mr. Hackett signed a five-year lease at a monthly rent of $4,500.

“You just need to roll a little bit with a tenant you think is solid and in the long run is good for the community,” said Greg Hatem, Empire’s founder and managing partner.

The retail industry was bouncing back, but the Omicron variant of the coronavirus may throw a wrench in its recovery. READ MORE

Macy’s began requesting the vaccination status of employees on Tuesday, a sign it was preparing for a potential mandate of vaccinations or weekly testing ahead of a special Supreme Court hearing about such rules on Friday. In a memo sent to employees that was obtained by The New York Times, the retailer — which also owns Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury — told workers in the United States to upload their vaccination statuses to a third-party platform by Jan. 16 “regardless of whether you work in a store, a supply chain facility, an office, or are remote/hybrid.” The company also said it might require proof of negative tests to be uploaded to the same system starting on Feb. 16.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has requested that Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, respond to questions about his communications with former President Donald J. Trump and his staff in the days surrounding the riot. In a letter on Tuesday, the committee asked for Mr. Hannity’s voluntary cooperation, meaning that the host has not received a formal subpoena. The letter detailed a series of text messages between the conservative media star and senior officials in the Trump White House, illustrating Mr. Hannity’s unusually elevated role as an outside adviser to the administration.

Leave a Reply